For some athletes, moving on from the field, court, rink, or track of their hometown high school to college athletics is a given. They are heavily recruited and have a myriad of options to choose from at the next level. For others looking to extend their playing career, things are much less certain.
In recognition of these circumstances, Concordia men’s soccer coach Ben Schneweis decided last season to give students who were both overlooked and unknown in recruitment the opportunity to extend their athletic careers through a tryout.
Five players responded to a mass email sent to the entire student body by Schneweis last season, showing up at the practice field to give college soccer a try.
Every player that showed up for tryouts was unrecruited. In the past, such a player would have been allowed to join the team from the start of fall camp, which is two weeks prior to the start of orientation.
“We just really don’t need to do that anymore because we don’t have the same need for numbers,” Schneweis said. “If we have a player come in at the start of camp and we find out they’re not a good fit, we don’t want them on campus for two weeks before school starts with nothing to do. That’s not good for anybody.”
Of the five players that showed up for tryouts last season, only one was offered a spot on the roster, then-freshman Keith Sullivan.
Sullivan, a native of Elk River, Minnesota, spent most of his youth playing football, not fútbol. On the gridiron, Sullivan played cornerback and tight end, splitting time between junior varsity and varsity as a junior. Sullivan believes he would’ve had a chance to start as a senior in football but he instead decided to play soccer, a sport he hadn’t played competitively since kindergarden.
“I just wasn’t having fun with it anymore and I’d wanted to play soccer since my freshman year,” Sullivan said.
Switching sports put Sullivan back at the bottom of a totem pole that he had already climbed in his former fall sport, but just like he has at Concordia, he improved.
“I started playing defense on the JV squad senior year and wanted to be goalie, but of course you had to work your way up and eventually halfway through the year I got put up on the varsity squad as the goalie because I played well enough in the one JV game that they did let me play,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan made the most of his first opportunity as a goalkeeper with the varsity unit picking up Elk River’s third and final win of the season in a shocking victory over the Northwest Suburban conference champions, the Park Center Pirates. Park Center finished the regular season 10-1-2.
Despite the success, Sullivan left high school raw and unrecruited due to his lack of experience. However, he knew that he wasn’t ready to be done playing his newfound sport. So, he responded to the email sent out by Schneweis and took the field.
“I didn’t think I had done too well,” Sullivan said. “The way I played, I didn’t think I did too well so I was kind of nervous.”
Despite his perceived poor performance at his first practice, Sullivan got another opportunity because of his effort and his attitude. After the second tryout, the coaches told Sullivan he had made the team as their fourth goalie.
“The coaches and the team liked the attitude that I had,” Sullivan said. “I was thrilled when I was told that I had made it because that means the team saw something in me other than just talent . . . the team valued more than just talent, they valued what everyone could bring to the table.”
Sullivan is still growing as a player. Until this last offseason, he had never known or been taught how to actually properly pass the ball. Sullivan says that not just the captains of the team, Austin Peterson and Jacob Schmidt, but the entire team has been extremely helpful in teaching and welcoming him.
“It was really cool because the guys on the team treated me just like anybody else on the team during that tryout,” Sullivan said. “They weren’t keeping me out of anything, they weren’t excluding me, they weren’t really trying to test me or anything. They just treated it like it was a normal practice.”
Schmidt is especially proud of the strides that Sullivan has made.
“It’s been really fun to watch Keith grow,” Schmidt said. “He seems to get better every week. He always has a good attitude about coming to play and he’s a fun guy to be around.”
Schneweis had another five unrecruited students reach out to him this season. Two tried out last week, and the remaining three will put their best foot forward this Thursday. It remains to be seen whether any of them will follow in Sullivan’s footsteps and make the team.